Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics

Voting, Great And Small

Today in NYC there’s a primary runoff election to decide who’ll be the next democratic candidates for city comptroller and public advocate. And, in a city of 8 million, something like a whopping 170,000 are expected to vote. As the New York Times’ Clyde Haberman drily puts it, this is about the size of the audience of a Yankees game.

So here’s my question: Is it more, less, or similarly inexcusable not to vote in these types of little, local elections?

Full disclosure: I never have.

Why? Simple…

I don’t vote when I don’t feel I know enough about a candidate to make an informed decision. And I don’t care to inform myself about the excruciatingly dull ins and outs of the public advocate’s job.


I should. His (or, hypothetically her) actions will have a direct effect on my life in this city in one way or another at one time or another. The comptroller holds the financial reins of the city’s budget in many important ways. And the public advocate — well, he’s next in line to be mayor if our current one should have an accident, scandal, or… whatnot.

Bottom line: A participatory democracy can’t work without participation. Anything else is pure moral laziness. It behooves me to take the small amount of time required to find out what these local pols do and learn a little about their individual records of public service.

Will I? I’m not sure, but there are still several hours ’til the polls close…. 


When elections next come to your neck of the woods, will you?

UPDATE: 5:01 PM: I voted! The veil of guilt has lifted. Only took 2 minutes, as there was barely anyone at the polls. Duty discharged, conscience clear… at least for today. Tune in next time….


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Christopher Gillen

posted September 29, 2009 at 1:33 pm

If you need a reason to excuse yourself, party primaries are not elections and participation in them not part of one’s civic duty as a citizen.

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posted September 29, 2009 at 2:22 pm

I think I’ve missed one election since I was old enough to vote. My husband has missed two.
I agree that our ballots are longer than they need to be. Many elective offices don’t need to be elective, and some of them actually shouldn’t be. For instance, any office (such as Secretary of State in many states) that controls the electoral process REALLY should be civil service. Electing judges is not a great idea either. It contributes both to poor quality of judges and judging, and to enormous hypertrophy of the ballot.
OTOH, voting in every election doesn’t necessarily require voting for everything on the ballot. What’s wrong with voting only for offices you care about and people you know something about?

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